Why Paper Works
What do these designers learn from paper and dice that they bring to the computer field? "Brevity," says historical wargame designer Mike Bennighof. "The forced limitations of a physical game (number of words, number and size of pieces) enforce a certain design discipline that helps create a more focused computer product as well. It makes you ask, 'what is the why?' Thanks to many years of paper game work, I can grasp in my mind how the game's different processes should come together in a working virtual machine."
Shane Hensley, who owns the paper publisher Great White Games, designed the Deadlands weird-west RPG, and is now lead writer on Cryptic/NCSoft's City of Villains MMORPG. "The pen-and-paper industry is like a crash course on what's fun and what's not," he says. "Because we crank out so many more products than a computer game company, we get to test out more theories." His own design experiments have given Hensley insights into the minds of the paper game audience, "many of which are cut from the same cloth as our video/computer game audience."
And did Andrew Greenberg's experience with White Wolf's gothic-punk Vampire paper game help him with - uhh - Mall Tycoon? Actually, yes: "When working in computer games, it is too easy to focus on the individual components and forget the overall design," Greenberg says. "That is impossible in tabletop gaming, where you have to ensure everything meshes together well. Having come from a tabletop gaming background helped me avoid that trap."
Most important, Greenberg says, "Tabletop gaming creates innumerable opportunities to meet and get to know the people who play the games I make. Gaming with them, without the barrier of a computer, really helped me understand why they play games and what they most enjoy - assets that are hard to develop when one designs solely for computer games."
The background helps in mundane details, too. Bruce Harlick of Sigil Games says, "The ability to create (and prototype and test) a system on paper is a big help; it can save time and effort in the long run. The engineers like the way I wrote design specs. For example, I tended to write things such as loot tables as though they'd be treasure charts from a paper RPG. This might have made them a little easier to read."